2015 NFL Draft: Packers Positional Preview: OL

ESPN Milwaukee’s Bill Johnson always used to say that Ted Thompson couldn’t scout and offensive lineman if one pancake blocked him.  I always thought that was funny and for a long time it was true.  He initially failed to adequately replace Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle and the early part of Aaron Rodgers’ career was spent with him putting up video-game-like passing numbers while running for his life.

There are the ghosts of offensive line failures littered throughout Thompson’s early tenure.  Junius Coston, Will Whitticker, Jason Spitz, and Tony Moll have all washed out of the league.  Daryn Colledge, though a Super Bowl XLV starter and champion, was always a disappointment.   He, Allen Barbre, Jamon Meredith and Breno Giacomini never made it with the Packers but eventually caught on in the NFL in different role.  Most, if not all of these players were college tackles, and Thompson and McCarthy drove fans and the media insane by training all of their linemen at each position and continuing to play O-line musical chairs.  It especially made everyone nuts because in Thompson’s 10 drafts as the Packers GM he has selected an offensive lineman in each one.

Something began to change in Thompson’s 4th draft.  Thompson took Josh Sitton out of UCF.  In 2009 he selected TJ Lang out of Eastern Michigan.  2010 brought Bryan Bulaga and in 2013 the Packers selected both David Bakhtiari and JC Tretter.  In 2014 Thompson trayed from his normal practices and drafted a true center in Corey Linsley.  All of these (probably with Tretter) were hits.  Lang, Sitton, Linsley and Bulaga all graded out at the top 5 of their position in 2014 according to Pro Football Focus.  Bakhtiari did not (mostly due to deficiencies in the run game) but is a plenty capable starter and protector of QB1’s blind side.

The only real whiffs in the last 5 drafts where the unfortunate case of Derek Sherrod and late round flyers Andrew Datko and Caleb Schlauderaff.  Thompson’s batting average has improved immensely and this season it has culminated in the Packers best offensive line group since 2003.  Not only that, but the entire line is under contract through 2016.

Class Strength: 5/10

This class gets a “meh” out of me.  Not because there aren’t good players in it but because there aren’t any players that I feel comfortable with at the premium position of left tackle.  Steve Palazzolo did a brilliant study on how the difference between left and right tackles is actually overrated, and I mostly agree with him.  That’s part of the reason i was so adamant about bringing Bryan Bulaga back.  With that said the blind side of the quarterback is always important to protect and teams will continue to use their highest OL picks on projected left tackles.

I just don’t see that player in this class.  My favorite offensive line prospect, Iowa’s Brandon Scherff, reminds me of the 4th offensive lineman taken a season ago.  Scherff is a plug and play above average NFL starter, just like Martin was, but he’s not going to be your left tackle.  Throw him in at either guard spot or right tackle and you’re set there for the next 5 years.  La’el Collins from LSU is another dominant player that doesnt’ have the length to play left tackle.  Stick him at a guard spot or at right tackle and again you might have something.

The two prospects I can actually see playing left tackle, Miami’s Ereck Flowers and Florida’s DJ Humphries feel a lot more like projects than day 1 starters to me.  That’s fine, project left tackles get taken in the first two rounds all the time, but I’m just not going to be putting them in my overall top 20.

My personal two favorites out of this class are Jake Fisher out of Oregon and Ty Sambrailo out of Colorado state.  To me, they feel like Bryan Bulaga clones that could develop and become excellent guards or a replacement for David Bakhtiari after his rookie contract is up.  The University of Oklahoma had two NFL prospects starting at tackle this season.  Their right tackle Daryl Williams is yet another plug and play LG, RG RT guy whereas their left tackle Tyrus Thompson is more of a day 3 project.

Interior guys aren’t usually something Ted Thompson is interested in.  I can’t imagine that will change this year with all pro guards TJ Lang and Josh Sitton, rising Center Corey Linsley and a backup in JC Tretter that they think very highly of all in the fold.  Oddly enough my 3 favorite interior guys are all from the same offensive line in college.  Flordia State’s Cameron Irving has the kind of versatility that Thompson salivates over and I thought that his linemates Tre’ Jackson and Josue Matias were both starting caliber NFL guards.

Packers Positional Situation: A-

I have used the phrase “unprecedented offensive continuity” before when regarding the 2015 and 2016 offense.  All 11 preferred starter are under contract, as they were a season ago.  I would guess you would have to look very deep into team history to find a scenario in which the offense stayed together for 3 seasons.  I’m not by any means guaranteeing that will happen.  Injuries happen.  Players fall off.  But at this point it has the potential to happen.

The Packers are set at every position.  It’s an odd setup for an elite offensive line.  The left tackle, though a very serviceable player is the lowest man on the totem pole.  With that said if David Bakhtiari is the worst thing you have going for you on the offensive line you have a pretty damn good offensive line.  The exciting thing about Bakhtiari is that he is a great athlete.  If he improves his technique in the run game and becomes physically stronger he too could be a top flight offensive lineman.  I have no issues whatsoever with any of the other 4 starters.

Behind them there is one guy, Tretter, who I think has all the talent in the world and can play all 4 positions starting at left guard to right tackle.  Same thing with Barclay except that I don’t want him playing center.  If Bakhtiari were to go down I think Bulaga could slide to the left side and the offense probably wouldn’t miss a beat.  If Green Bay had a better option at left tackle I would have given this group the full “A”.

Packers Level of Need at OL: 2/10

The only starter that is replaceable on the offensive line is Bakhtiari.  I don’t think there’s anyone in the draft class that will be available at 30 that could do a better job than he does and the Packers don’t have a need elsewhere.  They have a young developing offensive linemen that they think highly of in JC Tretter that doesn’t currently start and is developing.  There are most certainly positions on the team that require more attention than the offensive line.

Round to Start Targeting OL: Round 6

I would prefer that Thompson take care of the rest of the roster before addressing the offensive line.  Given his track record I think it’s unrealistic that he would pass on offensive linemen altogether but it just isn’t a need this year. Green Bay has a young, good line all under contract for the next two seasons.

If Thompson goes after an offensive linemen in this draft I expect it to be another one of his tackle projects.  Someone who’s taller than 6’3″ but shorter than 6’7″ and weighs a little over 300 pounds.  Thompson likes athletes, not road graders like Wisconsin’s Havenstein.  Green Bay will probably select a small school or an injury prone left tackle and stash him on the practice squad or bury him deep on the 53 to develop for the seasons to come.

My Favorite Fit for the Packers: Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma

Of the two Oklahoma offensive tackles Thompson is the more athletic.  He’s more of the project.  Daryl Williams is a plug and play type of guy there’s a chance you could teach Tyrus Thompson to play left tackle.

He’s 6’5″, carries 324 pounds surprisingly well and has adequate 35″ arms.  The question with Thompson is his work ethic, and while that’s never a good thing a strong locker room like Green Bay’s is the ideal fit for a talented player that just needs to “bring it”.  I honestly don’t think that Thompson’s the type of player that would make it on to the practice squad and quite frankly not the type of player that will probably make it to Round 6, but if he does he’s the ultimate late round left tackle project.

Other options: Austin Shepherd, Andrew Donnal, Sean Hickey

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Ross Uglem is a writer at PackersTalk.com. You can follow Ross on twitter at RossUglem

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